What those of us who are in the Christian tradition call Holy Week is often full of problematic imagery, symbols, interpretations, and theology that can easily do much more harm than good. The anti-semitism of blaming the Jewish people for Jesus death, the substitutionary atonement theology of Jesus being a human blood sacrifice for our sins to satisfy what could rightly be seen as a sadistic God, and the emphasis on a miraculous supernatural physical resurrection of Jesus often to the neglect of pointing out the injustices of capital punishment and imperial oppression all do more to perpetuate injustice in the world rather than cultivating beloved community.
Members of the Christian tradition who insist on blaming Jewish people for Jesus’ death would do well to remind themselves of the Jewish parents and Jewish community who formed Jesus and for the Jewish prophets who inspired Jesus to bring good news to the poor and liberation to the oppressed until he was killed by the Roman Empire.
If Jesus was crucified, then it was the Roman Empire that crucified Jesus. ”The Jews” did not crucify Jesus. They did not have the authority to do so. The texts that ascribe some form of blame to the Jewish leaders for Jesus’ death were written generations after Jesus’ execution and are often reflective of the polemics, or the conflicts, between early Christian communities and Jewish communities. We should be extremely cautious and hesitant about taking these accounts as an accurate history of the events surrounding Jesus’ execution. It is both dangerous and deadly to continue to place the blame for Jesus’ crucifixion on “the Jews” as is done in the Gospel of John for example. This rhetoric had been used to justify nearly 2000 years of mistreatment and mass murder. It is long past time to stop using this deeply antisemitic rhetoric.
Members of the Christian tradition who insist on adhering to a theology of substitutionary atonement that requires the shedding of Jesus’s blood to take way the sins of the world would do well to remember that violent shedding of blood by an oppressive empire does not redeem us. Only love, forgiveness, grace, and doing justice in beloved community can do that. We must ask ourselves, “What kind of sick and twisted God would require human sacrifice in order to be able to forgive our sins?”
Persons can be followers of Jesus and the way of bringing good news to the poor and liberation to the oppressed without making the crucifixion be the plan of a sadistic God who requires a gruesome human blood sacrifice for our sins to be forgiven.
And for members of the Christian tradition who insist that one must believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus in order to be a true Christian, it might be helpful to ask: What if the focus on physical resurrection has actually diminished the core message and meaning of Jesus’s life? What if the physical resurrection has become an idol of the Christian faith that hinders persons from engaging the life and teachings of Jesus in this world? What if the focus on hope in a miracle hinders us from engaging the hard work of regenerating a broken world today?
In a world of war, climate crisis, rapid biodiversity loss, poverty, religious nationalism, and global gains for autocracy; we need symbols and stories of realistic hope rather than fixating on a hope that supernatural miracles will save us. The regeneration of our world will not come from overcoming the natural cycles of life, but rather from living in harmony and community within them.
The apocalyptic expectations and the hope for miracles expressed by the early Christians in the context of imperial persecution are quite understandable. When things in this world seem hopeless, it is not surprising that many hope for a world beyond this one and hope for a miraculous turn of events that will right all of the wrongs and injustices of the world. Now that Christianity is the largest and arguably most powerful religion in the world, however, its apocalyptic tendencies and its reliance on miracles have become a barrier to the realistic hope and action that are needed to save us from continuing to hurl our earth into the sixth great extinction.
You can be a follower of Jesus’ way of bringing love and justice into the world through good news for the poor and liberation of the oppressed without believing that Jesus miraculously came back to life after the Roman authorities in Jerusalem executed him for sedition. It is okay not to believe that. There is nothing wrong or sinful or evil about not believing that.
Hopefully many persons in the Christian tradition and beyond will reflect at least some this weekend on how we need to bring regeneration to the systems of life that we as species have been systemically destroying. All life requires a livable climate. All life cries out for justice. Our human and ecological communities are groaning under the travail of systems and powers that must be transformed for the regeneration of life to be possible.
On this day that Christians call Easter, if the way of Jesus lives today, it is because someone visited a person in prison today, it is because someone sought liberation for the oppressed today, it is because someone brought hope and healing in a broken and war-torn world today, it is because someone cried out for justice for the poor today, it is because someone welcomed a refugee today, it is because someone called out the systems that are destroying our communities and the good earth today, and it is because billions of us are continuing the sacred work of living into the hope of beloved community today. This is the hope for the regeneration of our world – the best hope for new life that we have. May it be so.
Well said, as always, Mark